Thursday, 20 May 2010

Book Review : Yajnaseni - the story of Draupadi

This is a translation of the work of Oriya writer Pratibha Ray on the story of Draupadi. This tale portrays Draupadi in a completely different light from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Draupadi, in Palace of Illusions

I feel this book has lost a lot in the translation. The first half of the book was very diffcult to get through. The language is clunky and for someone unfamiliar with the multiple names for Arjuna, Krishna, Yudhishtir and Draupadi, the characters can be extremely confusing.

The translator Pradip Bhattacharya, is an IAS officer and the text of the first half is very heavy with convoluted sentences which made me feel like I was reading a bureacuratic report. It takes until the second half, for Bhattacharyato get into his groove and start writing a bit more naturally which really helps the story flow more smoothly.

Pratibha's Draupadi/Yajnaseni/Krishnaa is a woman trapped by circumstances. First having given her heart to Krishna (then told by Krishna himself that her destiny lies elsewhere) and then to Arjun, she is forced to split her time as a wife between 5 husbands, each with their own personalities and peculiarities.

A pre-occupied Yudhisthir, a demanding Bhim, Arjun who blames her for accepting his brothers as her husbands (for not saying no to the suggestion, although he himself didn't), childlike Nakul and Sahadev. Each husband needing to be treated differently according to his temparament. It is easy to empathise with Ray's Draupadi and feel sorry for her predicament.

To love Arjun and want to be his alone and yet have to spend 80% of her time with her four other husbands. Plus Arjun's long travels, as penance for intruding on the privacy of Yudhisthir and Draupadi, to gain astras from the different devas while marrying different princesses along the way. The final straw is when he marries Subhadra and brings her back to Indraprasth, before Draupadi herself has had the chance to be a wife to Arjun (in Ray's sequence of events). Yet, she manages to reconcile herself to all of this with the help of Krishna's council.

In this interpretation of the Mahabharath, Draupadi and Krishna share a spiritual level of trust and love that her five husbands accept and understand unquestioningly. Draupadi, even instructs one of Krishna's wives on how the wives have got it wrong in their constant fighting to possess Krishna for themselves, while what they should be doing is surrendering themselves to him.

Karna is not the flawless noble hero, but an insecure man who nurses his insults and loses no opportunity to rub salt in Draupadi's wounds, even though he also saves her life at one point of time.

Ray, bases her novel on the Mahabharath by Vedvyas and the Oriya Mahabharath by Sarala Das. She also adds a few incidents from her imagination and mixes up the sequence of some events to help her own narrative.

Although Draupadi is one of the five satis, she is often insulted as the one with five husbands and hence implied to be a woman of loose character. Ray's objective in writing this tale was to clear this "negative" interpretation of her and to give her the honor she deserves for holding the Pandavs together and being an "agent of change" in her time.

Also published on

Yajnaseni - The Story of Draupadi

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